Austin, Texas based Whole Foods Market, will pay $65,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that Whole Foods Market violated federal law by failing to accommodate and firing an employee because of her disability.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Whole Foods hired Diane Butler in 2005 as a cashier for a facility in Raleigh, N.C. Butler has polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disease causing uncontrolled growth of cysts in the kidney, eventually leading to kidney failure. In 2009, while working for Whole Foods, Butler had a kidney transplant. The EEOC said that in December 2015, Butler missed work on two occasions because she had been hospitalized and needed to visit the doctor because of her kidney. The EEOC further alleged that although Butler informed Whole Foods that she needed time off due to her kidney impairment, the company nonetheless fired Butler because of her absences.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees from discrimination based on a disability and requires employers to provide employees with disabilities with reasonable accommodations unless it would be an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Western Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Whole Foods Market Group, Inc. d/b/a Whole Foods Market; Civil Action No 5:17-cv-00494-FL) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to the $65,000 in damages, the two-year consent decree settling the suit requires that Whole Foods Market develop a disability accommodation policy. In addition, the company will provide annual training to its South Region human resource employees, and to managers and supervisors at its Wade Avenue store on the requirements of the ADA, including reasonable accommodation. Whole Foods Market must also post an employee notice concerning the lawsuit and employee rights under federal anti-discrimination laws.
“An employer who is on notice that an employee’s absence is related to her disability must comply with the ADA’s mandate to reasonably accommodate her by making exceptions to its absenteeism policy if doing so doesn’t cause an undue hardship,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District. “Ignoring federal anti-discrimination law only makes things worse for a company as well as employees.”
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